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Freshen up: active cooling with radiant ceilings in a Passivhaus retrofit 

The article presents an active cooling system using the supply air of the ventilation system with radiant ceiling panels, installed in a multi-residential building in the historic center of Girona, certified Passivhaus EnerPHit – Demand method.

Freshen up: active cooling with radiant ceilings in a Passivhaus retrofit

The article presents an active cooling system using the supply air of the ventilation system with radiant ceiling panels, installed in a multi-residential building in the historic center of Girona, certified Passivhaus EnerPHit – Demand method. For each apartment, the system consists of an air-source heat pump, a mechanical ventilation unit with heat and moisture recovery (MVHR), a coiling coil on the supply air stream, and radiant ceiling panels. Control is carried out with a home automation system, with temperature and humidity sensors in each room. The solution offers both heating and cooling, working quietly and at low temperature, providing high thermal comfort and efficient performance when used with a heat pump. Reliable performance depends on correct system sizing, proper commissioning of the control system and of ventilation flow rates, and user maintenance and replacement of filters in the MVHR units. Systems such as this are not a good solution in homes where windows are open a lot on the summer and are better suited to warm and dry climates with lower levels of humidity. 

The building is a multi-residential 6-storey building in the historic center of Girona, certified by Passivhaus EnerPHit – Demand method [Figure 1].  This private initiative – which was the first of its kind in Catalonia – put 4 new apartments of 129 m2 and a duplex of 162 m2 on the market.  

Due to local heritage building regulations, insulation had to be installed inside, with some loss of thermal inertia. Active cooling using a cooling coil on the the ventilation supply air is a relatively simple concept which can be cost effective to install. However, thermal power can be limited when temperatures peak. The system presented here combines supply air cooling with radiant ceiling panels, to provide sufficient power to cover peak cooling loads.  

Figure 1: completed building

The project data and team are shown below: 

  • Certification class: Passivhaus-EnerPHit – Demand Method 
  • Useful / gross floor area: 678 m2 / 1.038 m2 
  • Developer: MBD Real Estate Group  
  • Builder: Busquets Sitja  
  • Architects: López-Pedrero-Roda Architects  
  • M & E Engineering: PGI Engineering 
  • Control/home automation: Progetic 
  • PHPP, Passivhaus design: Oliver Style, Bega Clavero 
  • Passivhaus Certification: Energiehaus Arquitectos  

Description and operation of the system 

Given space and floor-to-ceiling height limitations, 2 cooling systems were initially considered: 

  1. Ventilation supply air cooling only 
  1. Ventilation supply air cooling + radiant ceiling panels 

The second option was chosen, given that operative temperatures in the summer could not be maintained at ≤ 25ºC using ventilation supply air cooling only. With 19 m2 of radiant ceiling panels (covering around 15% of the ceiling surface area), peak cooling loads could be met, calculated for an outdoor air temperature of 34.1 ºC, with an absolute humidity = 10,5 g/kg [1].  

For each apartment, the system included the following equipment: 

  • Heat pump: Daikin EWYQ005ADVP air-water monobloc heat pump (5.20 kW cooling / 5.65 kW heating) [Figure 2] 
  • Heat & moisture recovery ventilation unit: Zehnder ComfoAir550 enthalpic [Figure 3] 
  • Cooling coil: Zehnder ComfoPost CW10 [Figure 4] 
  • Radiant ceiling panels: Zehnder NIC 150 & NIC 300 [Figure 5] 
  • Control system: 
  • 1 temperature & humidity sensor per room 
  • 1 Loxone mini server [Figure 7] 
  • Various elements providing on/off control of the heat pump, 3-stepped control of the ventilation flow rate, and on/off control of each radiant ceiling circuit and control of water supply temperature to the radiant ceiling panels with a 3-way valve
Figure 2: Monobloc air-to-water heat pump
Figure 3: Energy recovery unit
Figure 4: Coiling coil, silencer, and supply air ducts (prior to insulation of ducts)
Figure 5: Radiant ceiling panels, prior to fixing on non-radiant panels 
Figure 6: Infrared image of radiant ceiling panels 
Figure 7: Control system switchboard 

In heating mode, the heat pump generates hot water, circulating it through the radiant ceiling panels at a supply/return temperature of 45 ºC / 40 ºC. At the same time, the coil on the ventilation supply air stream heats the air to around 40ºC. The fan speed is controlled to avoid excessively high flow rates, and which can lead to low relative humidity of indoor air. 

In cooling mode, the heat pump generates cold water, circulating it through the radiant ceiling panels at a supply/return temperature of 7 ºC / 12 ºC. At the same time, the coil on the ventilation supply air stream cools air to around 15 ºC. The coil also provides some dehumidification of the supply air, lowering the ambient indoor air dew point temperature and preventing condensation on the ceiling panels. In cooling mode, controlling the temperature of rooms individually is not possible given that the cooling coil only works for the entire apartment. 

The heat and moisture recovery ventilation unit also helps to increase the relative humidity of the indoor air in winter and decrease it in summer, improving thermal comfort and reducing the dehumidification load that the cooling coil needs to overcome. 

With the ventilation flow rate of 0.4 ach (135 m3/h), radiant ceiling panels typically cover – for both heating and cooling – approximately 65% of thermal loads. The ventilation system with the heating/cooling coil covers the remaining 35%. 

Radiant cooling systems must have a robust control system, to avoid problems of surface condensation. Temperature and humidity sensors were therefore installed in each of the 5 rooms where the radiant panels were located (dining room, kitchen and 3 bedrooms). The water temperature of the panels is adjusted with a 3-way mixing valve, based on the temperature and humidity data from the sensors in each room, ensuring the panel surface temperature remains above the dewpoint, avoiding condensation.  

The control system also modulates the ventilation unit’s fan power, lowering or raising the flow rate depending on the temperature setpoint and dehumidification needs. A schedule prevents the fan from operating as full flow at night, to avoid noise problems. If maximum power is required at night this can be a problem. The control allows you to set different setpoint temperatures according to specific schedules or occupancy rates, for each day of the week. 

In its default setting, the ventilation system works automatically with pre-established schedules (with the possibility of manual adjustment by occupants). Figure 8 summarizes its operation: 

Figure 8: Ventilation speeds and schedules  

Conclusions 

Cooling with radiant ceilings can offer an efficient solution that adds power to ventilation supply air cooling systems in Passive Houses in the summer. As the system is predominantly radiant and running at low temperature, it provides good comfort and can be more efficient than convective systems. Ceiling panels can be sized to meet heating and cooling loads, which in residential buildings retrofitted to Passivhaus standard means a coverage of between 15% to 30% of the ceiling surface area. This replaces ducted fan-coil or split systems, which take up more space in suspended ceilings, often a limitation in retrofit.  

The control system presented here offers a flexible solution at a reasonable cost, with a relatively user-friendly interface. The possibility of visualizing and monitoring data remotely and in real time, facilitates the optimization of the system and helps in terms of preventive maintenance. 

Systems such as this are not a good solution in homes where windows are open a lot on the summer and are more suitable for use in hot dry areas, since, in areas of high humidity, the power of the system will be limited depending on the humidity level of the indoor air and the proximity to the dew point. Robust operation depends correct system sizing, proper commissioning of the control system and of ventilation flow rates, and user maintenance and replacement of filters in the MVHR units. 

Passivhaus in the Mediterranean? Strategies for keeping cool in a Passivhaus on the beach 

A significant rise in temperatures is expected in the Mediterranean area in the coming years. Therefore, identifying and implementing effective strategies to reduce indoor temperatures in buildings and reduce the need for air conditioning is increasingly important. This article presents the strategies used in the design of a Mediterranean passive house, located at a stone’s throw from the beach in Castelldefels, Barcelona.

Passivhaus in the Mediterranean? Strategies for keeping cool in a Passivhaus on the beach

According to the climate modelling presented in the study “Study on Climate Change and Energy in the Mediterranean” carried out by the European Investment Bank, countries in the Mediterranean basin will experience an increase of between 3ºC – 6ºC in average temperatures between the period 2070-2099, based on the 1961-1990 period.

Figure 1: Climate modelling of the Mediterranean basin; average annual variation of air temperatures in summer (°C), 2070-2099 vs 1961-1990

The need to tackle overheating is addressed directly in the European Directive 2010/31/EU for nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB), which states the following: “Priority should be given to strategies that improve the thermal performance of buildings in the summer. To this end, measures should be promoted to prevent overheating, such as shading and sufficient thermal inertia in the construction of buildings, as well as to improve and apply passive cooling techniques (…)” [2]. This article presents the strategies used to improve the thermal performance in summer of a passive house in a Mediterranean climate. 

Caste study: “Esencia Mediterránea”…passive house on the beach 

The home, “Esencia Mediterránea,” has a useful area of 173m2, over two floors, located about 50 meters from the beach, 3 m above sea level (Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4) It has an architectural design very much in line with the Mediterranean vernacular tradition, was designed by Guillermo and Iciar Sen, built by House Habitat, and is Passivhaus certified. 

Figure 2: Satellite image, province Barcelona
Figure 3: Satellite image, Castelldefels 
Figure 4: Ground floor 
Figure 5: First floor
Figure 6: Photo of the home [Source: House Habitat] 

The project team:  

  • Architects: Guillermo Sen, Iciar Sen 
  • Technical Architect: Javier García Garrido – Garcia & Sala Arquitectes  
  • Builder: Pere Linares – House Habitat  
  • PHPP & building physics: Oliver Style, Bega Clavero  
  • HVAC design: Vicenç Fulcarà – Progetic 
  • Passivhaus and Blower Door Certification: Micheel Wassouf, Martín Amado – Energiehaus 

Passive cooling strategies 

Many of the strategies used to improve the summer performance of the home are rooted in traditional Mediterranean vernacular architecture and combined with modern solutions. For the thermal analysis presented here, a PHPP model of the house was prepared to meet the minimum requirements of the Spanish Building Code (CTE). Subsequently, the impact of each strategy on cooling demand is presented, until the limiting cooling demand value required by the Passivhaus standard is achieved. 

Shading analysis 

In order to be able to more accurately check the impact of design strategies for the summer, a shadow study was carried out with the DesignBuilder – EnergyPlus thermo-dynamic tool(Figure 7, Figure 8, Figure 9). The results were used to calculated shading reduction factors for each window, that were later introduced in the PHPP shading tab. 

Figure 7: Tree canopy
Figure 8: Dynamic model for shading analysis 
Figure 9: Dynamic model for shading analysis 

Thermal inertia and natural night ventilation 

Combining thermal mass with natural cross ventilation is a key Mediterranean passive cooling strategy. Cooling power is logically limited when minimum night-time temperatures are not sufficiently low (< 18 ºC), so the strategy tends to work best in climates that are inland and at a higher altitude than coastal areas. While lightweight Passive Houses in warm climates have shown good summer performance [3, 4], some thermal inertia, in combination with night ventilation, clearly helps to modulate indoor temperatures and dissipate heat, improving comfort conditions and reducing cooling energy consumption. The house in question was built with a lightweight timber system – inherently low inertia. To incorporate some mass and enhance the effect of natural night ventilation, a 5 cm of mortar layer with ceramic floor tiles were installed on the floors of both floors, providing a specific capacity of 85 Wh/K·m2 inertia (compared to a very light building of 60 Wh/K·m2). With tilt-and-turn windows partially opened at night, a minimum night ventilation air change rate of 0,8/h was calculated with the PHPP tool, provided by simple, cross and stack effect ventilation. 

Reflective surfaces: walls and roofs 

White painted walls and roofs are another feature of traditional Mediterranean architecture. The house has a white silicate mortar render, with a white roof, both with a solar absorption factor of α = 40 % (black α = 95 %). This helps to reflect more solar radiation and reduces transmission heat gains to the interior of the house. 

Shading devices and solar control 

Solar gains are reduced with balconies set back from the façade, exterior shading devices, and solar control glazing with a solar factor of 36%.

Thermal insulation 

Thermal insulation reduces transmission heat gains, especially through roofs. It is important to find a balance between the insulation thicknesses needed for winter and summer, since an excessive thickness of insulation can in some cases prevent heat dissipation at night in the summer. On the ground floor, 15 cm of wood fibre insulation was used, U = 0.264 W/m2·K. On external walls, 20 cm of wood fibre insulation was installed between the timber structure with 6 cm of external high-density wood fibre insulation, U = 0,158 W/m2·K. The roof has 26 cm of wood fibre insulation, for a U = 0,152 W/m2·K 

Air infiltration 

Reducing air ex/infiltration is a strategy that comes from cold and temperate climates, where the priority is to reduce winter heat losses, when there can often be an indoor-outdoor ΔT of 30 ºC. Outdoor air temperatures would have to be 55 ºC to have the same ΔT in summer. However, reducing air infiltrations in coastal Mediterranean climates with high humidity can help reduce latent cooling loads when active cooling is on and windows are shut. In the case study home presented here, reducing air infiltration from n50 = 5 ach (a typical value for newly built homes) to n50 = 0.4 ach, the latent cooling load is reduced by 39% and the latent cooling demand by 7%. 

Mechanical ventilation with heat and moisture recovery (enthalpy) + automatic bypass in summer 

Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) is another solution that originated in central and northern Europe. Does it work in a Mediterranean summer? When outdoor temperatures rise above the indoor comfort temperature (> 25 ºC), users in air-conditioned Mediterranean homes typically close windows and turn on the cooling system, with negative consequences for indoor air quality. A mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery and automatic summer bypass, ensures constant air change and high air quality. When Tout > Tint the heat recovery unit reduces the temperature of the inlet air, shown in Figure 10, where heat recovery reduces the temperature of incoming air from 35.5 ºC to 29.5 ºC:

Figure 10: Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery in the summer  

When Tout < Tint the automatic bypass opens, providing free cooling and bypassing heat recovery. Additionally, an enthalpy unit reduces the amount of water vapor that enters the house in summer when the absolute humidity of the outdoor air is greater than the extract air (which is often the case in warm humid climates in homes with air conditioning / dehumidification). When the air conditioning is off, users can of course open windows at any point.  

Discussion and conclusions 

Figure 11 shows the PHPP simulation results for each of the strategies described above. The reduction in cooling demands from insulation on the roof is less than on the walls – a result that seems surprising. This is due to shading from the tree canopy, which means the reduction is less than in the walls. The results show that the combination of all strategies is greater than the sum of individual strategies. Cooling demand is reduced from 33 kWh/m2·a with the CTE code-compliant building, to 18 kWh/m2·a, meeting the requirements for the Passivhaus certification in a Barcelona climate.  

Figure 11: PHPP simulation results, cooling demands 
 

Combining traditional Mediterranean passive cooling strategies with solutions included in the Passivhaus standard, the summer performance of buildings can be improved with a reduced need for air conditioning.  “Stress testing” your design with a tool such as PHPP in the early stages of the project is essential, and post-construction monitoring and evaluation is highly recommended to learn from mistakes and improve.

References 

[1] Somot, S. (2005), “Modélisation climatique du bassin Méditerranéen: Variabilité et scénarios de changement climatique.” Thése de Doctorat, Université Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier. UFR Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre. pp 347. Toulouse, Francia, 2005. 

[2] Parlamento Europeo (2010), “Directiva 2010/31/UE del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, de 19 de mayo de 2010, relativa a la eficiencia energética de los edificios (refundición)”. Parlamento y Consejo Europeo, Bruselas, 2010. 

[3] Wassouf, M. (2015), “Comfort and Passive House in the Mediterranean summer – monitorization of 2 detached homes in Spain Barcelona”, 19th IPHC, Leipizig, Alemania.  

[4] Oliver Style (2016), “Measured performance of a lightweight straw bale passive house in a Mediterranean heat wave”. 20th International Passivhaus Conference, Darmstadt, Alemania. 

Hormipresa Arctic Wall: prefabricated construction system achieves Passivhaus component certification

Hormipresa Arctic Wall is a fully industrialised construction system, certified for passive houses in the warm-temperate climate zone, as the regular U-values of the exterior components are below 0,25 W/m²K and the connections meet the criteria of ‘thermal bridge free’.

Hormipresa Arctic Wall: prefabricated construction system achieves Passivhaus component certification

Hormipresa Arctic Wall is a fully industrialised construction system, certified for passive houses in the warm-temperate climate zone, as the regular U-values of the exterior components are below 0,25 W/m²K and the connections meet the criteria of ‘thermal bridge free’.

The system consists of 9cm of PIR thermal insulation, sandwiched between a 15cm reinforced concrete layer internally and a 6cm white concrete layer externally. The two concrete layers are held together with a galvanized steel lattice system with wall ties that minimise heat transmission while providing mechanical strength. Additionally, 4cm of mineral wool insulation is installed internally in the service void. For the purpose of certification, a three-dimensional simulation was carried out to determine the thermal effect of the steel wall ties and lattice system that penetrate the insulation layer. The roof consists of a prestressed concrete hollow core slab with 14cm of XPS insulation. For the ground floor detail, 8cm of XPS insulation is placed on top of the concrete slab.

For the purposes of certification, a standard passive house window (Uw = 1,00 W/m²K with Ug = 0,90 W/m²K) was used. The overall U-value of the installed window of standard size (1,23 m wide by 1,48 m tall) should be no more than 0,05 W/m²K greater than the Uw to ensure occupant comfort – this criteria is met in this instance. 

Airtightness of the system is achieved in the following way: windows and doors are taped with Iso-Connect Inside Blue Line airtight tapes. The airtight layer of the wall and floor slab is the reinforced concrete layer. In the roof, the airtight layer is the hollow-core slab. Joints between panels and connections with other building elements are sealed with Sikaflex 11-FC elastomeric sealant and painted with Soudal Soudatight SP airtight paint. 

The Passive House Institute has defined international component criteria for seven climate zones based on hygiene, comfort and affordability criteria. In principle, components which have been certified for climate zones with higher requirements may also be used in climates with less stringent requirements. Their use might make economic sense in certain circumstances. 

Check out the Arctic Wall system on the Passivhaus Component database

Many thanks to Soraya Lopez from the Passive House Institute for her considerable efforts to complete the certification process on time.

Casa A, Somió, Gijón: single family home certified as PHI Low Energy Building by Praxis

Casa A, Somió, Gijón: single family home certified as PHI Low Energy Building by Praxis This single-family home is located in Somió, Gijón, Asturias, Spain, and was designed byArchitect Juan Ignacio Corominas, and certified as a PHI Low Energy Building by Oliver Stylefrom Praxis. Patricia Borràs was the Passivhaus Designer on the project. Outer walls …

Casa A, Somió, Gijón: single family home certified as PHI Low Energy Building by Praxis

This single-family home is located in Somió, Gijón, Asturias, Spain, and was designed by
Architect Juan Ignacio Corominas, and certified as a PHI Low Energy Building by Oliver Style
from Praxis. Patricia Borràs was the Passivhaus Designer on the project. Outer walls have 12cm
of external insulation fixed to 24cm honeycomb brick, U = 0.208 W/m2·K. The roof has 28cm of
XPS thermal insulation, U = 0.117 W/m2·K. The walls to ground of the heated basement have
8cm of insulation, U = 0.437 W/m2·K. The suspended floor slab has 15cm of insulation, U =
0.137 W/m2·K.

Window frames are Passivhaus certified Cortizo COR-80, Uf = 0.94 W/m2·K, with low-e argon
filled with triple glazing, Ug = 0.50 W/m2· K and g= 49%. Exterior roller blinds on all windows
control summer solar heat gains. A 9.2 kW Baxi PBM 10 air-source heat pump provides
underfloor space heating, as well as generating domestic hot water. A Passivhaus certified
ventilation unit, Aldes InspirAIR Side 240, provides controlled mechanical ventilation. The
Blower Door test result was N50 = 0.89 ren/h.

Pictures: Juan Ignacio Corominas

Link:

Lessons learned during 10 years of Passivhaus projects

Lessons learned during the design and construction of Passivhaus buildings over the past 10 years in Spain, identifying the importance of the heat loss form factor, along with successes and pitfalls related to thermal insulation, windows, airtightness, ventilation and active systems.

Lessons learned during 10 years of Passivhaus projects

The Heat Loss Form Factor: Keep it boxy but beautiful!

The compacity of a building has a large influence on energy performance, measured by the form factor, which is the ratio between the thermal envelope and Treated Floor Area (Athermal envelope [m2] ÷ TFA [m2]). The greater the form factor, the greater the exposed heat loss area of the envelope per m2 of TFA, requiring higher levels of thermal protection to achieve the same level of energy efficiency. To illustrate the fact, PHPP modelling results from a range of Passivhaus Classic buildings have been analysed, for varying typologies (single-family, multi-residential, offices and nursing homes) across different Spanish climates. The Form Factor has been compared with two parameters: insulation thickness, using an equivalent thermal conductivity of 0.040 W/m·K (Figure 1) and average Uwindow thermal transmittance (Figure 2).

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Figure 1: Form factor vs. insulation thicknesses
Figure 2: Form factor vs. Uw installed

As expected, the results show a clear correlation: the higher the form factor, the greater the insulation thickness required, and the lower the Uwindow. The results also indicate that other factors also play a part, such as orientation, solar gain, thermal bridges and- to a lesser extent- thermal inertia.

Blower door test: the moment of truth

In timber construction, OSB boards are often used as the airtight layer and vapour retarder. Research by the Passivhaus Institut [Peper 2014] shows a wide range of air permeability between different manufacturers of OSB boards, with 22mm OSB 4 generally showing best airtightness. Table 1 shows Blower Door results in which different grades and thicknesses of OSB were used:

Table 1: Results of the Blower Door test of three lightweight timber frame houses

The sample is very small, but the results suggest that 18 mm OSB 3 is sufficient to achieve an airtightness of n50 ≤ 0.6/h, as long as all joints and connections are well sealed. Taping a plastic sheet to a 1m2 area of the OSB board (not across joints), prior to the depressurization test, can provide a simple and visual means of assessing the air permeability of an OSB board.

Airtightness in sliding windows

Sliding windows are a standard feature in Mediterranean Spanish homes, which can present challenges in terms of airtightness. Lift and slide windows can now achieve Class 4 air permeability, making them suitable for Passivhaus buildings. However, Blower Door test results with three sliding panes have shown to be problematic (Table 2), with the best results achieved at least one fixed pane. If there are several sliding panes, best results were found with the fixed pane in the centre position.

Table 2: Results of the Blower Door test of 3 buildings with sliding window frames

Table 2: Results of the Blower Door test of 3 buildings with sliding window frames.

Heating, cooling, and ventilation, better not together

The experience of using the ventilation system for heating and cooling, whereby a water-fed heating/cooling coil heats or cools ventilation supply air, has been shown to be problematic, above all during summer heat waves, in humid Mediterranean climates in urban settings. Conditioning outdoor air, rather than recirculating indoor air, means that the increase in heating and cooling power is far from linear as flow rates are increased. Also, flow rates are generally small, further limiting heating/cooling power. Despite thermal insulation sleeves on supply air ventilation ducts, long duct runs have been shown to incur large heat losses in heating mode, and large heat gains in cooling mode, meaning that valve supply temperatures at the end of the duct run are often much lower than those used in the calculations during the design phase.

References

[Burrell 2015] Burrell, E.: What is the Heat Loss Form Factor? Searched on September 9th 2019, accessible at https://elrondburrell.com/blog/passivhaus-heatloss-formfactor/

[Peper 2014] Peper, S.; Bangert, A.; Bastian Z.: Integrating wood beams into the airtight layer. Passive House Institut. 2014

Keep cool and carry on: Passivhaus cooling experiences in the warm climates

With rising global temperatures and increasingly frequent summer heat waves, keeping cool in Passive House buildings has become a hot topic.

Keep cool and carry on: Passivhaus cooling experiences in the warm climates

With rising global temperatures and increasingly frequent summer heat waves, keeping cool in Passive House buildings has become a hot topic.

Bad jokes aside, overheating can be deadly: in France the peak mortality rate during the 2003 heat wave was higher than during the first wave of COVID in 2020, shown in Figure 1 [Parienté et al 2021].

Figure 1: Mortality rate in France during 2003 heat wave vs. first wave of COVID 2020
[Source: Parienté et al 2021]

Active cooling in all climates warmer than warm-temperate looks like it will become standard. The question is: for cool-temperature climates, is passive cooling sufficient, or is active cooling unavoidable? What are the pros and cons of the different systems? Will my client ring me up during the next heat wave and give me an ear full?

The article provides technical analysis and lessons learnt from 10 years of experience applying passive and active cooling strategies in residential Passive House buildings in Catalonia, Spain. 6 different kinds of active cooling systems that have been designed and installed in single-family Passivhaus homes are compared, assessing the simplicity or complexity of design, installation, and commissioning; upfront costs; user-friendliness, robustness, and comfort; environmental impact of refrigerants for active cooling systems; and the bottom line: measured performance and monitoring data.

Passive cooling

Careful design, moderately sized and well shaded openings, close attention to local climate, and active users have been found to be some of the key drivers of successful passive cooling. Reduction of internal heat gains is key, with efficient appliances and compact Domestic Hot Water (DHW) systems that avoid the need for recirculation circuits. If recirculation circuits are unavoidable, they need high levels of insulation and flow rate control, with reduced DHW water supply temperatures- so long as this is compatible with Legionella prevention. Ultrafiltration and chemical shock disinfection are promising alternatives to the conventional solution of high DHW supply temperatures and thermal shock prevention.

External shading devices are essential, ideally with motorised external blinds, either user controlled or automated. Even north facing windows in Passivhaus buildings need shading: the very long time constant of Passivhaus buildings mean diffuse solar radiation can cause overheating. If only fixed shading can be used, then appropriate solutions for each orientation are key, with particular attention to east and west facing glazing, which receive more solar radiation in the summer than south-facing glazing (shown in Figure 2). Deep horizontal overhangs on southern glazing work best (or northern glazing in the southern hemisphere), with slanted vertical fins for east and west-facing glazing.

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Figure 2: Solar radiation by orientation, Barcelona PHPP climate file

Natural night ventilation combined with thermal inertia works well when night temperatures are sufficiently low. Cool external colours, high levels of insulation on roofs, ground coupling, and ceiling fans, are also effective strategies. Figure 3 shows an example of measured data for a single-family home employing many of those strategies (but with little thermal inertia).

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Figure 3: Collsuspina, passive cooling

Passive cooling is in general simple, low-cost, easy to install, maintain and commission, and can deliver good performance. However, passive cooling strategies are highly climate dependent and rely on careful user behaviour. Where average air temperatures and levels of solar radiation are high (hot ground), minimum night temperatures do not drop below ~ 20 ºC (limited cooling power from natural night ventilation), and night sky temperatures and outdoor air humidity are high, passive cooling won’t work. In this case, active cooling is unavoidable to maintain comfort. Figure 4 and Figure 5 show an example of climate conditions in which passive cooling strategies won’t work, during the 2015 heat wave in Barcelona, Spain.

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Figure 4: Outdoor air temperature, Barcelona 3 – 10 July 2015
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Figure 5: Outdoor absolute humidity, Barcelona 3 – 10 July

Active cooling

6 different cooling systems that have been designed and installed in residential Passive Houses are compared, assessing 6 criteria through a simple 1-to-5 point scoring system, shown in Table 1. Monitored data is provided for systems System 1, 2, 5 and 6.

Table 1: Quantitative comparison of 6 different cooling systems

Radiant cooling systems offer a high level of comfort and efficiency, but are more complex to design, install and commission, with higher capital cost. Humidity control and cooling power has been found to be problematic in warm and humid climates, where users go in and out of the house (garden/balcony etc.). Monitored data for an underfloor cooling system is shown in Figure 6. Figure 7 shows monitored data for a radiant ceiling system.

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Figure 6: System 1, Terrassa, underfloor cooling + dehumidification of ventilation supply air
Figure 7: System 2, La Garriga, radiant ceiling + dehumidification of ventilation supply air

Low-temperature radiators (set in the floor, or wall-mounted) offer a reasonable balance between simplicity, cost, efficiency, and comfort, albeit with less cooling power than fan-coils and splits, requiring a greater number of individual units to cover the same given area than a ducted fan-coil/split system (where 1 indoor unit can cool several rooms). Figure 8 shows monitored data for this kind of system.

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Figure 8: System 3, Moià, low-temperature radiators

Supply air cooling has been found to be problematic, due to limited cooling power (a consequence of conditioning outdoor air rather than recirculating indoor air, low flow rates, and heat gain along long duct runs). Power can be increased using partial recirculation but monitored data in Figure 9 shows that temperature and relative humidity often move outside the extended comfort range. The advantages of this kind of system are simplicity and low capital cost, but the limited cooling power means passive cooling measures must be robust: once overheating has set in, the system will struggle to eliminate heat.

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Figure 9: System 4, Girona, supply air cooling + recirculation

Conventional convective solutions through the recirculation of indoor air (i.e., ducted or wall-mounted fan-coil or split systems) have been found to be the most robust. They are generally simple to design, install and commission, have a lower capital cost than radiant systems, and power can be modulated to deal with peak loads. They are less comfortable than radiant systems. Split systems using refrigerant distribution offer greater dehumidification power (due to lower refrigerant sink temperatures than water) with a faster response than fan-coils and water distribution. However, the Glower Warming Potential (GWP) of the refrigerants and risk of leaks from on-site manipulation is an important consideration. Figure 10 shows monitored data for ducted split system. Temperatures outside the extended comfort range are during hours when the home was not occupied, and the clients report a high level of thermal comfort.

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Figure 10: System 6, Cardedeu, ducted split units

Thermodynamic analysis of an electric underfloor heating system

The article presents the results of a thermodynamic simulation study, comparing Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) floorboards with ceramic and stoneware floor tiles, heated with an electric underfloor heating system, for both dry and wet assemblies.

Thermodynamic analysis of an electric underfloor heating system

The article presents the results of a thermodynamic simulation study, comparing Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) floorboards with ceramic and stoneware floor tiles, heated with an electric underfloor heating system, for both dry and wet assemblies. The different floor finishes have been modelled in a multi residential building, in Madrid (Spain) climate, using the DesignBuilder-EnergyPlus simulation tool. 

The objective of the study is to analyse the dynamic thermal response of each kind of floor finish, comparing heating energy consumption, peak heating power, floor surface temperature and indoor air temperature. 

Floor types

The Table below shows the different types of floor systems that were modelled:

Figure 1: Floor types and variants included in the analysis

Calculation model

The DesignBuilder tool with the EnergyPlus thermodynamic calculation engine has been used for the simulations.

A multi-residential 4 storey building has been modelled, consisting of 4 dwellings per floor, each with ~ 86 m2 of net floor area, and 342.1 m2 of total heated floor area. The second floor of the building has been modelled for the study, with the floors above and below modelled as adiabatic (they are assumed to be occupied and heated, with the same occupancy and internal heat gain conditions).

Figure 2: Render of the complete building
Figure 3: Render of the calculation model, 2nd floor

The exterior walls are cavity wall with a 14 cm perforated brick outer layer, 5 cm air-void, 6 cm of thermal insulation, and 9 cm of interior hollow brick layer, with 1cm of gypsum plaster (U = 0,39 W/m2·K). The dwellings have aluminium window frames with thermal breaks (Uf = 3,6 W/m2·K) and air-filled double glazing (Ug = 2,9 W/m2·K & g = 69%). The dwelling have mechanical ventilation with an average air change rate of 0.63 ach, with sensible heat recovery that has a efficiency rate of η = 70 %. For dwellings, air infiltration has been calculated as N50 = 5/h, converted to atmospheric pressure and applied to each zone according to its exposed area. Common areas, as the staircase, air infiltration have been modelled with 1 ach of air infiltration.

The energy consumption of all 4 homes on the second floor has been analysed, with a detailed analysis of Room 1 (oriented to the southwest).

Electric radiant floor system

An electric radiant floor system has been modelled. Heating mats with the following nominal power capacities were simulated under each type of flooring:

  • Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) floor (direct system): 75 W per linear metre
  • Wood Plastic Composite (WPC), with self-levelling mortar screed: 116 W per linear metre
  • Stoneware/ceramic floor, with self-levelling mortar screed & gypsum plasterboards: 116 W per linear metre

The radiant floor power for each home and for Room 1 is shown in the following table. The radiant floor has been modelled as “ZoneHVAC: Low Temperature Radiant: Electric” and inserted into DesignBuilder using an EnergyPlus script.

Figure 4: Radiant floor capacity per dwelling

Temperature setpoints

The heating setpoints are those indicated in Annex D “Operational conditions and usage profiles” of the Spanish Building Regulations CTE DB HE 2019:

  • Main setpoint: 20 ºC (07:00 – 22:59)
  • Secondary setpoint: 17 ºC

Results

The 3 periods shown in the following table have been analysed:

Figure 5: Analysis periods

The following parameters have been analysed:

  • Heating consumption [kWh]
  • Maximum capacity of the radiant floor heating mat [kW]
  • Floor temperature [ºC]
  • Indoor air temperature[ºC]

Dry installation: thermal transmittance, thermal resistance, and internal heat capacity

The Figures below show the radiant floor capacity, total thermal transmittance (according to ISO 69446), thermal resistance of the materials on top of the radiant floor heating mat, and the internal heat capacity of the materials above the radiant floor (according to ISO 13786), for each type of floor, for a dry installation.

Figure 6: Total thermal transmittance, thermal resistance above radiant floor & internal heat capacity per area unit above the radiant heating mat, dry installation
Figure 7: Total thermal transmittance, thermal resistance above radiant floor & internal heat capacity per area unit above the radiant heating mat, dry installation

Wet installation: thermal transmittance, thermal resistance, and internal heat capacity

The following graph and table show the radiant floor capacity, the total thermal transmittance (according to ISO 69446), the thermal resistance of the materials above the radiant floor heating mat, and the internal heat capacity of the materials above the radiant floor (according to ISO 13786), of each flooring type, for a wet installation.

Figure 8: Total thermal transmittance, thermal resistance above radiant floor & internal heat capacity per area unit above the radiant heating mat, wet installation
Figure 9: Total thermal transmittance, thermal resistance above radiant floor & internal heat capacity per area unit above the radiant heating mat, dry installation

Dry installation: 2nd floor, heating consumption, 1st October – 31st March

The Table and the Figure below show the results of heating energy consumption for each type of floor, for a dry installation.

Figure 10: Heating consumption results, dry installation, 1st October – 31st March

The results indicate that the heating consumption of floors 2.1 Stoneware and 2.2 Ceramic with double gypsum fibreboards is 20% higher than in 1.1 WPC (direct system).

Floor consumption 3.1 Stoneware and 3.2 Ceramic with 1 dry gypsum fibreboard, is 5% and 4% higher than 1.1 WPC. These differences fall within the margin of uncertainty in the calculations (around 10%).

Figure 11: Heating consumption results, dry installation, 1st October – 31st March

Wet installation: 2nd floor: heating consumption, October 1st – March 1st

The next table and graph show heating consumption results for each floor type, with wet installation.

Figure 12: Heating consumption results, wet installation, 1 October – 31 March

The results indicate that heating consumption of 4.1 Stoneware and 4.2 Ceramic floors with self-levelling mortar screed, are 10% and 9% lower respectively than 1.2 WPC with self-leveling mortar screed. These differences fall within the margin of uncertainty in the calculations (around 10%).

Figure 13: Heating consumption results, wet installation, 1st October – 31st March

Dry installation: Bedroom 1, floor & indoor air temperatures, radiant floor power, and solar gains, January 14th

The evolution of radiant heating mat capacity is shown in the Figures below, together with solar gains, floor surface temperature, and indoor air temperature, during the day of January 14th, for each floor type, for dry installation.

Additionally, the maximum capacity of the radiant heating mat, the time at which maximum capacity occurs, and the maximum floor surface temperature (before the effects of solar radiation) are shown.

The heating setpoint and setback temperatures (20 ºC from 7:00 – 23:00 and 17 ºC the rest of the day) determine when the radiant floor is turned on or off. Solar gains provoke sudden rises in indoor air and floor surface temperatures when the radiant floor is off.

Figure 14: 1.1 WPC, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 15: 2.1 Stoneware, 2 gypsum fibreboards, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 16: 2.2 Ceramic, 2 gypsum fibreboards, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 17: 3.1 Stoneware, 1 gypsum fibreboard, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 18: 3.2 Ceramic, 1 gypsum fibreboard, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 19: All floors, dry installation, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 20: Radiant floor max. capacity, max. floor temp. and time delay, dry installation

The table and graphs above show that the delay between radiant heating mat’s maximum capacity and maximum floor temperatures, is around 4 hours for the 1.1 WPC, approximately 6 hours for stoneware floor and ceramic floor with 2 gypsum fiberboards, and approximately 5 hours with 1 gypsum fiberboard.

This is mainly because the thermal resistance and thermal capacity of the 1.1 WPC (direct system) is lower than with the stoneware and ceramic floors with gypsum fiberboards, therefore takes less time to warm up and transmit heat to the room.

Wet installation: Bedroom 1, floor & indoor air temperatures, radiant floor power, and solar gains, January 14th

The graphs below show the evolution of the radiant heating mat power capacity, solar gains, floor surface temperature, and indoor air temperature, during January 14th, for each floor type, for a wet installation.

The radiant heating mat maximum capacity, the time at which maximum capacity occurs, and the maximum floor surface temperature (before the effects of solar radiation) are shown. For the 1.2 WPC, the maximum floor temperature takes place at 12:00 due to the heat emitted by the radiant heating mat; from that time on, the increase in floor temperature is due to solar gains.

Figure 21: 1.2 WPC with self-levelling mortar screed, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 22: 4.1 Stoneware, self-levelling mortar screed, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 23: 4.2 Ceramic, self-levelling mortar screed, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 24: All floors, wet installation, winter day, radiant floor capacity, solar gains, floor temp. & air temp.
Figure 25: Radiant floor max. capacity, max. floor temp. and time delay, wet installation

The above graphs and table indicate the time delay between the radiant floor’s maximum capacity and the floors maximum temperature, for the WPC, stoneware, and ceramic floor with self-leveling mortar screed, is around 5 hours in all three cases.

Although the heat capacity of the materials above, the radiant floor of floor types 4.1 and 4.2 is far greater than the 1.2 WPC, the thermal resistance of these materials is much lower, so the dynamic response and heating consumption is similar.

Conclusion

The results of the dry installations, indicate that the Wood Plastic Composite flooring has lower energy consumption (between 4% and 20%) and a slightly faster thermal response. In the case of floors with wet installation, the results indicate that the Wood Plastic Composite flooring has a slightly higher energy consumption (between 9% and 10%) and a thermal response similar to the other floor types analyzed. In both cases, given the margin of uncertainty of the calculation, the difference is minimal.

DHW + PV: solar PV top-up for domestic hot water

Energy consumption from DHW use is often higher than heating and cooling requirements in a residential Passivhaus. This is mainly due to the large losses inherent in storing and recirculating hot water, and because heating and cooling demands are very low,

DHW + PV: solar PV top-up for domestic hot water

Energy consumption from DHW use is often higher than heating and cooling requirements in a residential Passivhaus. This is mainly due to the large losses inherent in storing and recirculating hot water, and because heating and cooling demands are very low, thanks to an optimised fabric design that minimises thermal losses/gains. Reducing the net energy consumption of DHW in Passivhaus is therefore important.  

The article presents monitored data from a solar PV installation for a single-family certified Passivhaus in Girona, Spain, designed by Tigges Architekt and Energiehaus Arquitectos, with services installed by Progetic (Figure 1 & Figure 2). The system diverts surplus PV production to an electric immersion heater in the DHW tank, where the primary generator for hot water is an air-source heat pump.  

Figure 1: View of the south façade of the case study home [Source: Loxone]
Figure 2: View of the east façade of the case study home [Source: Loxone]

The first step is always to optimise DHW system design and reduce losses. The second step is to find simple and low-maintenance solutions for on-site renewable energy generation for DHW production. The solution implemented here is an all-electric system that reduces net hot water energy consumption, using a solar PV array to top up hot water production, with an air-source heat pump as the main hot water generator. The system avoids the maintenance problems found in solar thermal systems that are susceptible to overheating in summer months when occupants are away, where fluid dry-up in the primary circuit between panel and tank is a frequent cause of failure. 

A series of calculations were done with the PHPP tool, to determine useful energy demands, final energy consumption and projected energy bills, by category. For the calculation of the energy bill, the weighted price of electricity was calculated at € 0.21 / kWh. Additionally, an analysis of DHW demand and losses by category was made. Figure 3, Figure 4, Figure 5 and Figure 6 show the results. 

DHW consumption appears as the second highest energy consumer, 34% of the total. If we look at DHW demand and losses, only 33% is due to heating hot water, the remaining 67% are losses, of which 44% are due to recirculation, 18% due to individual pipes, and a 5% for storage. The total predicted final energy consumption for DHW is 1,764 kWh, an average of 147 kWh/month. 

Figure 3: Useful energy demands, final energy consuption and costs, by category, calculated with PHPP
Figure 4: Final energy consumption by category and energy costs, calculated with PHPP
Figure 5: DHW demand and losses, calculated with PHPP
Figura 6: DHW demand and losses, calculated with PHPP

System

The system incorporates a PV array with 12 polycrystalline modules and a peak power of 3.18 kWp (Figure 7), and a 3 kW inverter. The main hot water generator is a 6 kW ait-to-water heat pump (wich also supplies heating and cooling, with a 500-liter DHW tank and 3-kW electrical immersion heater (Figure 8). DHW production is isntantaneous. When the sun is shining and there is more PV generation than electrical consumption in the home, a control system diverts the electrical energy from the PV panels that cannot be self-consumed into thermal energy in the DHW tank for use in the afternoon or evening (Figure 9).

Figure 7: 3,18 kWp roof-mounted PV array
Figure 8: DHW
Figure 9: Control system

This is particularly interesting in the summer in passive houses in warm climates with active cooling and only one heat pump, as it generally allows the heat pump to keep itself in cooling mode, rather than stopping, reversing and going into hot water heating mode, before reverting back to cooling (for example, when occupants return home in the afternoon and shower etc). The hysteresis in this process can mean the home is without active cooling during 2/3 hours, which can be a problem in comfort terms. The control system monitors the home’s electricity consumption and PV production, sending surplus electricity to the resistance in the DHW tank. The power of the resistance heater is modulated through a voltage regulator, due to the fact that the output power of the photovoltaic generator varies continuously according to the level of solar radiation, and that the available surplus depends on the transient electricity consumption of the house. 

Monitoring data & conclusions

Monitoring data for 2018-2019 shows a total of 1211 kWh of PV production was diverted to the electrical resistance in the DHW tank, with a peak water temperature of 58 ºC. PHPP calculations projected that DHW consumption was 1764 kWh. Logically, not all of the PV energy diverted to the DHW tank is useful, as it depends on when DHW consumption takes place. Nonetheless, the system shows that solar PV top-up is effective for assisting in hot water generation, thereby reducing net energy consumption derived from hot water use, shown in (Figure 10) and (Figure 11) below.

Figure 10: Monitored data showing PV generation, solar PV DHW production, and total energy consumption, 1-8 June 2019
Figure 11: Monitored data showing PV generation, solar PV DHW production, and total energy consumption, 5 June 2019

Bibliography

[1] Feist W., Peper S., 2015, “Energy efficiency of the Passive House Standard: Expectations confirmed by measurements in practice”. Passive House Institute Dr. Wolfgang Feist, Rheinstraße 44/46, 64283 Darmstadt, Alemania.

[2] Grant N., Clarke A., 2010, “The importance of hot water system design in the Passivhaus”. Elemental Solutions, Withy Cottage, Little Hill, Orcop, Hereford, HR2 8SE, Reino Unido.

[3] Parlamento Europeo, 2010, “DIRECTIVA 2010/31/UE DEL PARLAMENTO EUROPEO Y DEL CONSEJO, de 19 de mayo de 2010 relativa a la eficiencia energética de los edificiosb(refundición)”.

Dynamic hygrothermal simulation and full-scale validation of a structural insulated panel made from bio-based materials.

Given the environmental impact of the construction sector- responsible for 40% of the total primary energy consumption of the European Union- reducing both the embodied energy of materials at manufacturing stage and minimising operational energy consumption in buildings are urgent tasks.

Dynamic hygrothermal simulation and full-scale validation of a structural insulated panel made from bio-based materials.

Given the environmental impact of the construction sector- responsible for 40% of the total primary energy consumption of the European Union- reducing both the embodied energy of materials at manufacturing stage and minimising operational energy consumption in buildings are urgent tasks. Timber, agricultural residues, and bio-based materials are local renewable resources that can be transformed into buildings products and components, fomenting the creation of circular economies, and reducing the environmental impact of the sector. The objective of the European ISOBIO project, that ran from 2015 to 2019, financed under the Horizon2020 program, was to address these problems through the development of new insulating materials and renders from plant fibres, agricultural residues, and bio-based binders. The article presents the results of dynamic hygrothermal simulations and full-scale validation of a structural insulated panel made from bio-based materials, for use in the construction of nearly-zero energy buildings.

ISOBIO structural insulated panel for new buildings

The prototype panel measured 1.95m x 1.95m, with a total thickness of 33.2cm in 8 layers with 9 different materials (Figure 1). The panel was rendered external with 25mm of lime and hemp plaster, applied on a rigid 50mm hemp insulation board, mechanically fixed to a 145mm red pine timber structure, filled with hemp, cotton, and flax insulation, followed by a 12mm OSB 3 timber board. An airtight and dynamic vapour control membrane was fixed to the inner face of the OSB, followed by a 45mm service void, insulated between timber battens with hemp, cotton, and flax insulation. The battens were positioned at 90º in relation to the main structural joists to reduce the thermal bridging through the timber. The inner service void was lined with a 40mm thermo-compressed straw board, plastered on the inside with 15mm of composite clay-hemp plaster, applied in 3 layers.

Figure 1: ISOBIO panel section drawings and materials
Figure 2: Location and type of sensros installed in the panel
Figure 3: Panel installation at the HIVE demonstrator, Wroughton, UK

Test set-up

Figure 3 shows the installation of the panels in the demonstrator in Wroughton, UK. A monitoring system was installed, with a meteorological station recording external climate conditions: dry air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, and barometric pressure. A temperature probe was installed on the outside of the panel, with a heat flow and temperature probe on the inner face, for measuring thermal transmittance in accordance with ISO 9869 [1]. In addition, temperature and relative humidity sensors were installed at 3 positions within the panel (Figure 2), to measure transient hygrothermal behaviour inside the panel and compare the results with dynamic hygrothermal simulations made with the WUFI Pro tool, following EN 15026 [2]. WUFI Pro 1D is a tool developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany for assessing the hygrothermal performance of one-dimensional building envelope cross-sections, taking into account the moisture content of the materials, their transient hygrothermal performance, capillary transport and summer condensation, with hourly outdoor climate conditions. The software version used was WUFI Pro v. 6.2.1.2210

Data was measured at an interval of 5 minutes, from 24/02/2018 to 14/03/2018 in the HIVE demonstrator, UK, for a total 432 hours, or 18 days, with 5184 data points. The interior temperature was maintained at an average of 25.5 °C throughout the period, with the use of an electric convection heater.

Monitoring Results and Validation

Figure 4 shows a cross section of the modelled panel, with sensor locations. Figure 5 shows the WUFI model of the panel and corresponding sensor locations.

Figure 4: Cross section of panel and sensor locations
Figure 5: Cross section of WUFI model and sensor locations

Figure 6 shows measured and modelled temperature and RH at position 2 (between the CAVAC rigid insulation and Biofib Trio insulation). Temperature dynamics are well reflected in the model. RH dynamics are less well reflected.

Figure 6: Measured vs. modelled (WUFI) interstitial temperature and relative humidity, positin 2, ISOBIO new-build panel, HIVE demonstrator

Figure 7 shows the measured and modelled temperature at position 3 (between the Biofib Trio insulation and OSB board). Temperature dynamics are well reflected in the model, with RH less so. The model nonetheless shows very close alignment with measured results.

Figure 7: Measured vs. modelled (WUFI) interstitial temperature and relative humidity, position 3, ISOBIO new build panel, HIVE demonstrator

Figure 8 shows the measured and modelled temperature and RH at position 4 (between the Intello membrane and the Biofib Trio insulation). Temperature and RH dynamics are well reflected in the model.

Figure 8: Measured vs. modelled (WUFI) interstitial temperature and relative humidity, position 4, ISOBIO new-build panel, HIVE demonstrator

Figure 9 shows the measured average heat flow rate, compared with the WUFI modelled heat flow rate, showing very good agreement.

Figure 9: Measured vs. modelled (WUFI)average heat flow rate, ISOBIO new-build panel, HIVE demonstrator

Conclusion

The results of the measured and modelled temperature and RH show good correlation, with dynamic temperature variations accurately reflected in the model. The short-term variations in relative humidity are not reflected with the same precision in the WUFI modelling results, possibly due to the assumption that the equilibrium water content in the materials is instantaneous, where in reality, there is hysteresis [3]. The hourly measured and modelled thermal transmittance data show very good correlation, with a difference of only 4% over the monitoring period.

The results indicate that bio-based materials combined in a composite SIP panel of this type can offer predictable hygrothermal performance for use in nearly-zero energy buildings.

References

  • ISO 9869-1:2014 Thermal Insulation – Building elements – in-situ measurement of thermal resistance and thermal transmittance. (Aislamiento térmica – elementos constructivos – medición in-situ de la resistencia térmica y transmitancia térmica)
  • UNE-EN 15026:2007, Comportamiento higrotérmico de componentes de edificios y elementos constructivos. Evaluación de la transferencia de humedad mediante simulación numérica.(Ratificada por AENOR en junio de 2010.)
  • N. Reuge, F. Collet, S. Pretot, S. Moisette, M. Bart, O. Style, A. Shea, C. Lanos 2019, Hygrothermal transfers through a bio-based multilayered ISOBIO wall – Part I: Validation of a local kinetics model of sorption and simulations of the HIVE demonstrator. Laboratoire de Génie Civil et Génie Mécanique, Axe Ecomatériaux pour la construction, Université de Rennes, 3 rue du Clos Courtel, BP 90422, 35704 Rennes, France.

Healthy home: materials and indoor air quality

The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that the air in our homes is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. After spending so much time at home during successive COVID lockdowns, the importance of living in a healthy home has perhaps become clearer than ever before.

Healthy home: materials and indoor air quality

Materiales y calidad del aire, claves para los espacios saludables
Figure 1: Example of materials that can affect a home’s indoor air quality [Source: Jose Hevia / H.A.U.S]

The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that the air in our homes is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. After spending so much time at home during successive COVID lockdowns, the importance of living in a healthy home has perhaps become clearer than ever before.

What kind of environmental conditions are we looking for in a healthy home? Operative or comfort temperatures of between 20 ºC – 25ºC, relative humidity between 40 % – 60%, and surface temperatures ≤ 3ºC of the indoor air temperature.  With an indoor air temperature of 20ºC and a relative humidity of 50%, interior surfaces need to be ≥ 13ºC to prevent the risk of mould growth, and ≥ 9ºC to avoid surface condensation. Exposure to mould spores can cause health issues such as eye, skin and throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, coughing and wheezing. Alongside healthy thermal conditions, good indoor air quality is key for wellbeing, solved largely by good ventilation, but also by preventing the entrance of outdoor contaminants (such as particulate matter, radon gas etc.) and by reducing the generation of indoor contaminants due to emissions from materials, furniture, and finishes.

If continuous and controlled ventilation is key, we need to get to the root of the problem: to reduce and avoid materials that emit toxic chemicals in our home. In this article Oliver Style explains what to be on the lookout for, and presents three certification systems that are useful for choosing healthy products and materials.

What does indoor air contain?

To live in a healthy environment, we need to look at the products, materials and furniture we have in our home, since we breathe the particles they emit and we are often in direct physical contact with them.

The first step is to choose paints, varnishes, timber, ceramics, textiles, and furniture with a very low emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are of both natural and artificial origin. They all share the common characteristic that they are made of carbon and other elements such as hydrogen, halogens, oxygen, or sulphur. They are present in solids or liquids and are either volatile or occur in a gaseous state at room temperature, which means they move quickly around indoor spaces. Some of them modify the chemical composition of their local environment and are harmful to our health.

Formaldehyde, a colourless, volatile, and toxic gas (classified as carcinogenic by the EU), and other VOCs, are often found in paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives, wood products, binders, glues, waxes, plastics, pesticides, aerosols, synthetic carpets, cleaning products, disinfection products and degreasers. Health effects include asthma, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. VOCs can be endocrine disruptors and cause respiratory and hormonal diseases, prolonged sleep and behavioural disorders, reproductive disorders and foetal development, cancer, and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

Another harmful component to pay close attention to is particulate matter (PM)- fine particles and fibres with a diameter of 10 micrometres (PM10) or less (PM2.5 and PM 1). PM2.5 particles can reach the lungs, and PM1 can reach the bloodstream. Short and long-term exposure to these particles is associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. These diseases become more evident when the fibres come from highly toxic materials such as asbestos.

Which are the best materials and products to use in our home?

To avoid and minimize harmful substances inside the home, it’s best to look for products that have been modified or processed as little as possible, made with low-emission paints, varnishes, and glues, formaldehyde free, and if possible, certification for low emissions. Three such certification systems are mentioned below, which classify materials and products and quantify their harmful emissions.

Linoleum or solid wood floors are recommended because they usually contain few adhesives and generally have low emissions. Anything that has been varnished or coated in a controlled factory environment (rather than on-site) will lead to lower emissions in the home. If you use laminated timber flooring, look for one that is free of formaldehyde.

Carpets are in generally not advisable, as they end up collecting all kinds of particles, and in some cases, contain volatile coal ash or polyurethane laminates. Natural fibre carpets are recommended.

Furniture and wood composite products can be a significant source of emissions because they are often made with urea-formaldehyde adhesives. Look for solid wood or plywood furniture, free of formaldehydes. 

As far as kitchen counters go, natural rock is a good option, such as quartz. Alternatively, look for Corian (a synthetic material for solid surfaces composed of acrylic resin and aluminium hydroxide).

As for thermal insulation, exposure to sprayed foam insulation containing isocyanates can cause asthma. If you use fiberglass or mineral wool insulation, make sure it’s formaldehyde free. In general, bio-based or mineral insulation are the healthiest options.

Be careful: products are sometimes sold as “ecological” due to their recycled content, but they can be harmful to your health. For example, some ceramic tiles are made with recycled glass from cathode ray tubes from old TVs, which are considered hazardous waste due to their high lead content.

Emissions & materials: certification systems

1. French certification for indoor air emissions

Emisiones Dans l’air intérieur
Figure 2: Example of the indoor air emissions certification, with A+ product rating

The label “Émissions dans l’air interieur” classifies building materials, furniture and finishing products marketed in France, being mandatory for all products sold there. The certification classifies products according to VOC emissions, from A+ to C (A+ being lowest emissions), according to the ISO 16000 standard. If a product exceeds the limits, it cannot be sold (admittedly “C” class is not very demanding…). The following emissions are evaluated:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Acetaldehydes
  • Toluene
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Xylenes
  • 1, 2, 4 Trimethylbenzene
  • 1, 4 Dichlorobenzene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • 2 Butoxyethanol
  • Estriol

2. Baubiologie Rosenheim Institute certification

Geprüft und empfohlen
Figure 3: IBR Certificate Seal

The IBR, Institute for Biologically Sound Construction, is a German institution that certifies healthy and environmentally sustainable consumer construction products, and includes a series of tests that measure the emissions of a product, including:

  • Radioactivity
  • Biocides
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls
  • Heavy metals
  • VOC
  • Formaldehydes
  • Biological compatibility
  • Electrostatics

3. Eurofins Indoor Air Comfort certification

Eurofins

This certification systems classifies construction products into two categories: Standard level “Indoor Air Comfort – certified product”, which shows compliance with product emissions criteria established by EU authorities, and Higher level “Indoor Air Comfort GOLD – certified product”, which shows additional compliance for product emissions with the criteria set by the most relevant ecolabels and sustainable building organisations in the EU.

MICA Wall indoor air quality sensor
Figure 5: MICA Wall indoor air quality sensor

What you don’t measure you can’t improve

There are several testing laboratories in Spain for the measurement and certification of materials and their VOC emissions, such as Tecnalia, and SGS. What if I want to measure the indoor air quality of my home without spending a fortune? There’s affordable equipment with reasonable accuracy, such as the range of MICA sensors, manufactured by Inbiot. They measure VOC’s, formaldehydes, ozone, suspended particles, radon gas, CO2, temperature and relative humidity.

The following figure shows measured data from a MICA sensor of formaldehyde concentration in a bedroom over the course of a week.

According to the technical standard of measurement in Baubiologie SBM2015 for rest areas, values above 100 μg/m3 are already extremely significant. “The search for emission sources is a bit like looking for a needle in haystack, based on the data and measurements. But you can gradually discard sources until you find the culprit” says Maria Figols, Project Manager at InBiot.

Figure 6: Formaldehyde concentration measured in a bedroom for one week in December 2019

Better living with less emissions

Creating healthy indoor environments is clearly on the agenda, with the construction sector on centre stage. Choosing the right low-emission materials will improve indoor air quality and can help reduce illness for occupants, in the short, medium, and long term. Using products with some of the certification systems shown above is a good place to start. Alongside emissions, these kind of certification systems also assess the environmental impact of a product, making sure they don’t pose a significant hazard during manufacturing, deconstruction, recycling or waste treatment phases. Reducing the source of indoor contaminants should always be the first step. The second step- and equally important- is controlled and efficient ventilation.

Acknowledgements

To Maria Figols and Xabi Alaez from InBiot for their contributions.

Bibliography

[1] Guía Edificios y Salud, Siete Llaves para un edificio saludable. García de Frutos, Daniel et al. Consejo General de la Arquitectura Técnica de España, Consejo General de Colegios de Médicos. Enero 2020.

[2] Monitorización de vivienda de alta eficiencia, 30 Marzo 2020. InBiot. https://wiki.inbiot.es/monitorizacion-de-vivienda-de-alta-eficiencia/